Match Analysis

Record-breaker Mushfiqur celebrates 'healthy competition' with Tamim

Bangladesh batter urges younger players to raise the bar after he became the first from the country to hit 5000 Test runs

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Mushfiqur Rahim looks rather impressed with the cake, arranged to celebrate the 5000-run landmark in Test cricket  •  BCB

Mushfiqur Rahim looks rather impressed with the cake, arranged to celebrate the 5000-run landmark in Test cricket  •  BCB

When the moment finally arrived for Mushfiqur Rahim, he actually withdrew from the shot. It had been an absorbing first hour of play in steaming Chattogram, where the heat was over 40 degrees. The wait was for Mushfiqur to score 15 runs to become Bangladesh's first cricketer to reach 5000 Test runs. There was the odd quip about how Tamim Iqbal could overtake him. Tamim had retired hurt on 133 after cramping up on the second afternoon, and he was padded up to bat next.
But after facing 47 balls, an Asitha Fernando delivery shaved Mushfiqur's gloves to go past the wicketkeeper. While he was completing the two runs, the big screen on the western side announced what had just happened. Mushfiqur's celebration was mostly muted, raising his bat just once.
A milestone of 5000 runs stopped mattering a long time ago, but Bangladesh's Test cricket is only 20 years old. So in this Test nation's context, this goes down in history as one of Bangladesh's seminal achievements. Mushfiqur, the 81-Test veteran, is very much aware of the significance of the moment. At the end of the day, he passed on the figurative baton to young Mahmudul Hasan Joy, a promising opener playing in his fifth game.
"We were cutting the celebratory cake in the dressing room just now and I fed a piece to Joy," Mushfiqur said. "I told him, you are the youngest batsman now. I hope you will score 10000 runs, and feed the next guy in line. Hopefully the younger players can double up on what we will leave behind. It is a great feeling to become the first Bangladeshi to reach 5000 Test runs. I am sure I won't be the last one. There'll be a lot of capable players among us who can reach 8000 or 10000 runs."
At a more immediate level, Mushfiqur beat Tamim to the 5000-run mark despite being behind him on the second day. But Tamim cramping up on 133 sent him to the dressing room on the second afternoon. Reaching 4981, Tamim was poised to be the first to the milestone. Instead, he clapped from the dressing room on the third morning, padded up. Mushfiqur was magnanimous in his praise for Tamim, reminding everyone of how they kept beating each other in getting Bangladesh's highest Test score.
"Records are meant to be broken. I was so happy when Tamim broke my highest individual score. He told me then that within next two or three years, I will end up breaking his record again"
Mushfiqur on how he and Tamim push each other to their best
"He congratulated me. He knew he was close. He knows these things. He joked that he couldn't get there, I did. I feel happier when a brother, team-mate or a friend achieves something.
"Records are meant to be broken. I was so happy when Tamim broke my highest individual score. He told me then that within next two or three years, I will end up breaking his record again. It is a healthy competition, and this is how we as team-mates help each other."
Tamim and Mushfiqur have exchanged the position as Bangladesh's leading Test scorer various times over the years. Tamim had overtaken Habibul Bashar in 2015, before Mushfiqur surpassed Tamim in February 2020. However, Tamim regained his place in April last year. Mushfiqur returned to the top in November, before Tamim's 133 got him ahead in this game.
These two go back a long way, to age-group camp days in BKSP, the revered sporting institute where Mushfiqur was a student, and Tamim an outsider. They have played 330 international matches together, played under each other and generally been through a lot together in the last 15 years.
They are a bit like the Sri Lankan pair of Arjuna Ranatunga and Aravinda de Silva, who played 322 matches together from their earliest days as a Test team. de Silva beat Ranatunga to the 5000-run mark by two years but both are considered the pioneers of Sri Lankan cricket. Mushfiqur and Tamim have the same recognition, as pioneers.
But unlike the Sri Lankan legends, Tamim and Mushfiqur's work is not over. Even 15 years into playing together, Bangladesh needed them in the first Test after twin batting disasters in South Africa. Tamim was part of a 162-run opening stand - Bangladesh's first in five years - but when he had to leave the middle due to cramps, Mushfiqur had to stick around. His 165-run fourth wicket stand with Litton Das took Bangladesh out of trouble. It turned out to be the first time that Bangladesh had two 150-plus partnerships in a Test innings.
"It was a bit hot. Our team goal was to get as close as possible to their score. We couldn't take a big enough lead but that's due to their fast bowlers who bowled well on this wicket. I am happy that we batted well, after fielding for two days," Mushfiqur said.
Sri Lanka is Mushfiqur's most viable opponent, as he is one of two Bangladeshi batters to score more than 1000 Test runs against them. But Mushfiqur said that Sri Lanka's attitude of preying on a batter's patience makes them a unique attack.
"Generally, it is not that easy to score runs against Sri Lanka. Over the years they have had two quality bowlers in their attack. Even now. They don't set over-attacking fields like England or Australia. They want you to make a mistake while attacking.
"Sri Lanka try to play with your patience. They dry up the runs, forcing you to make a mistake. I think there's always the extra challenge of tiring them out, by playing a long innings and putting together partnerships."
This was Mushfiqur's first Test hundred in more than two years, and the first against Sri Lanka since 2013. He has scored just four half-centuries in his last ten Tests, averaging 32.43, and there have even been questions about his place in the T20I side since November.
Mushfiqur, who was issued a show-cause notice by the BCB for criticising the selectors last year, was more restrained when asked about his future following this landmark.
"(What is being said about me) is not desirable for a player. Only in Bangladesh, you will get compared to Bradman when you score a century, but then when you don't score runs, you feel like digging a hole for yourself.
"I am one of the senior players so we are not going to be around for long. But this is becoming a culture, so the younger players need the support. If I have to spend so much time tackling these things off the field, our on-field duties get affected."
Mushfiqur was asked if considers himself lucky to be the first to two important milestones. He is Bangladesh's first to 5000 runs ahead of Tamim, who was close to the mark. He was also Bangladesh's first to a double-hundred when Mohammad Ashraful, in the same innings in Galle in 2013, was out for 190 when Mushfiqur was on 157.
Mushfiqur quoted the Quran to say that Allah looks after him, before walking off from the stage. "I don't think it is luck. Look at my forehead. When I go to practice, most of you are sleeping in the morning. Allah looks over me. That's all."

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84